University/SBDC Support Encourages USVI Tech Firms
With their combination of a culturally diverse people and a rich history, it is no wonder that the islands of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas attract around 2 million tourists to their beaches every year. Tourism is the driving economic force for a population of just over 106,000, and until this year, the Hovensa oil refinery was a significant economic engine. However, when the refinery closed its doors in mid-February, it created a void in the job market. Still, Virgin Islands residents have shown their strength and determination to keep their eyes on the future, and they continue to thrive and move forward in tough economic times.
In July, I had the opportunity to visit the USVI. As regional advocate for the Office of Advocacy, I worked alongside staff from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Virgin Islands Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in the government contracting matchmaking events on St. Croix and St. Thomas. These events encouraged and offered technical assistance to Virgin Islands small businesses competing for government contracts.
At the events and elsewhere during my visit, I spoke about the Office of Advocacy and my role as Region II Advocate. Small business owners were excited to hear that they have an independent voice within the federal government. The strong alliance between the Virgin Islands SBDC, the Small Business Administration, and the Office of Advocacy fostered the opportunity for small businesses to connect with these agencies and potentially generate future collaboration.
While visiting the University of the Virgin Islands I learned about the different campus programs including Research and Technology Park, or RTPark, whose mission is to help technology-based businesses advance within the industry. Another program I learned about was the Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research or VI-EPSCoR. As its title suggests, the program works to encourage the growth of the islands’ tech resources.
These and other university programs, plus the open dialogue between the SBDC and the university, combine to create a strong support system for potential entrepreneurs and current small business owners. There is a great deal of assistance, training and education offered as a result of this partnership; learning more about the programs available further reinforced my belief that the Virgin Islands will continue to move forward and grow.
I met and talked to numerous business owners and stakeholders, and I even had the chance to try the Virgin Islands’ famous potato stuffing and curry chicken from a local vendor. Later, when I toured the SBDCs, I spoke with more people who were excited to share ideas and create an open dialogue with the Office of Advocacy. I was also interviewed by the St. Croix Avis newspaper and WVVI–93.5 FM Caribbean Country Radio about my role as Region II Advocate. The enthusiasm I encountered in every direction is a crucial element of the islands’ success.
—Teri Coaxum, Region II Advocate
Teri Coaxum is the regional advocate for New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. You can reach her at email@example.com.